Friday, January 26, 2007

Hot Off the Rollerball

Part of today's output during our weekly free-writing meeting, next to a container of prompts.

Four of us -- we usually range from around three to ten, depending on the week -- sat around a table in the back room. I popped open a small plastic container that held narrow strips of paper, each with a prompt. I read the slip out loud and we bent to our notebooks for several minutes of off-the-cuff writing.

These are typed from the rough, handwritten drafts. I usually start with a kernel of an idea, whatever pops into my mind, and let my subconscious take it from there....

Prompt: "Dear Animal"

Dear Moose,

Your beer is chilling in the fridge, just as your note requested. I knew it was from you -- I'd recognize your hoof print anywhere, and you're the only ungulate I've been renting a room to lately. And the scrapes on the door from your antlers were a dead giveaway.

I'd asked the ladies if they'd seen you. One had, and told me you were trolling in the woods out back of the river, crossing the beaver dam and following black bear scat in your desperate meanderings. She'd heard you calling for mates.

She wanted you, you know. But she knew she wasn't your type. Not tall enough, not stocky enough. You'd told her she needed a stag, not the likes of you.

You should have seen her, pawing at the ground with tears in her eyes, her ears flicking forward and back, the little tremor in her snow-white doe's tail.

Not the kind of tail you wanted.

Not the kind of tail you didn't get, either, that was now a cold lump on the asphalt, next to a crumpled chassis. Every time I put a beer in the fridge for you I wonder if I'll get a call from the forest ranger: "I'm sorry, Miss, but your houseguest has become a casualty of reckless driving."

I worry about the cars and trucks when I'm not obsessed with hunting season. I have nightmares of spotting your disembodied head on a wooden plaque nailed above somebody's mantle, your dead eyes surveying brandy snifters and insipid chitchat, never to spread your impatient seed among the fairer sex of moosedom.

A rifle shot cracks beneath a glittering, starlit sky, and I freeze.

I peer inside the fridge. I've gotten the beer you like, Labatt. A good Canadian beer whose taste reminds you of caribou trails and Yukon tundra.

A dainty hoof taps my door, too demure to have come from you. When I open it my doe-eyed friend trots into the cabin and bends her legs beneath her before the fireplace. And I know what she is steeling herself to tell me.

I take the Labatt outside and spill it on the grass in your memory, then go for the Scotch.

Prompt: "Hero"

He wore a turquoise-colored salad bowl on his head and swim goggles over his eyes. His cape was a torn, threadbare sheet that bore the stains of too many wetted beds and that smelled faintly of bleach years after it became reborn as a costume.

The costume's bottom half was more malleable: pajama pants one year, swim trunks the next, or a combination of the two. Magic bracelets fashioned from wayward twist ties. Rubber boots meant to repel evil as readily as slush.

"Hey, dork!" the bullies called from down the block. "What are your super powers?"

He didn't know.

He didn't care, either. Being a hero was enough of a challenge.

He didn't jump off the roof or even off the couch, despite his turquoise helmet that made his nose twitch with the memory of vinegar. Coupled with the bleach in his cape it was an otherworldly odor. He had come from another dimension, one where he could levitate or see through steel or read people's minds with such ease that everybody did it, where such powers were no big deal.

Being a proper superhero, he thought they were no big deal in this dimension, either.

Instead he squatted in the vegetable garden of a postage stamp-sized yard, the ratty hem of his cape unraveling in the mud, and he watched the seedlings grow. They told him the bullies didn't matter.

The next day the bunnies had cropped the seedlings to the ground and the boy turned to spiders instead, and watched the females eat their young before they spun anew. They caught another suitor who soon disappeared. They laid more egg balls and waited for them to hatch.

The boy drew his muddy cape around his shoulders and thought. He adjusted his helmet and wiped his goggles. Dirt trickled from his pajama bottoms and nestled in his rubber boots.

The next time the bullies taunted him he smiled back at them. When they asked him what his super powers were, he almost told them.

But they wouldn't understand the wisdom of the garden and its drama of life and death. Super powers were supposed to be special. One did not practice them in quiet solitude.

He kept the secret under his plastic bowl and between his ears, rising from the mud when his mother called him to dinner.


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